Two Hours and a Gallon of Downey Fabric Softener

October 5, 2014

Essays for Giggles, Mom Stories


If you’re a mom who has ever tried to transform a cheap costume wig into a style that meets your Little Princess’ exacting standards and failed, this story is for you. (If you don’t have children, and plan to, read this, it may make you change your mind.)

Even if you order an “official” wig style – like the Ariel one I ordered off Amazon when my daughter was 5-years-old – that cheap Chinese crap still comes out of the plastic bag looking like a giant cat has puked up a massive synthetic hairball. My daughter looked at the sad excuse for an Ariel coif and just shook her head “no.”

Now that my daughter is 9-years-old, I have started explaining things to her like “You can’t have the exact same hairstyle as your favorite Disney Princess because she is not real, that hairstyle is animated, a cartoon, hand-drawn or computer generated by an artist; it can defy the laws of physics and gravity because IT DOESN’T EXIST IN OUR WORLD… and “I’m not buying a cheap wig off Amazon that looks nothing like the picture and has terrible reviews. You won’t like it, and won’t wear it, and then I will be pissed off about the $30 (including shipping) that I paid to get the cheap ass piece of shit here.”

So, this Halloween, my daughter is going to be “Elsa,” like every third child in America, a result of the most successful Disney film of all time, “Frozen.” Elsa wears a spectacular, shimmering, body-hugging dress on a figure to die for – as a result, my daughter doesn’t want a “Disney Princess dress” with a medallion featuring the character’s face on the front… she doesn’t want a “costume” that reaches mid-calf so that kids can walk in the dark and trick or treat without falling and busting their heads open on Halloween, and since she is tall for her age, that is a double challenge – she wants a full-length dress that reaches her feet and makes her look like an animated cartoon character.

And that is not easy to do when you are a real, live person.

So, I found a dress I would pay the price for on Etsy, ($40 including shipping), silvery sandals – with the requested heel – no flats – at Walmart ($13) but I had absolutely decreed that there would be no wig since $20 wouldn’t get one that was wearable, and I wasn’t spending any more than that… I was already in the process of making it clear to her that I would braid her shoulder-length, brown hair as best I could, and she would just have to channel her “Inner Elsa.”

She certainly wasn’t happy about having to settle for Elsa-esque instead of the full-blown deal and truth be told, hair is a huge part of the illusion of pretending to be someone else, am I right? I could wear a white halter dress and stand over a subway grate, but without a platinum blonde wig, I’m not going to be Marilyn Monroe. (Though, in truth,  it would take more than a wig for that to happen to me – I’m just making a point.)

So, quite by accident, I came across a cheap costume wig at a discount store for $4. It wasn’t even in a package, but strewn on the shelf, tangled with other merchandise, fluffed out into a giant, blond rat’s nest.


I was determined to turn this monstrosity into Elsa’s saucy braid.

I was willing to take a chance on wasting four bucks on the slim hope that I could subdue this thing into a single braid. I had heard a rumor that you could use fabric softener on American Girl Dolls’ hair to tame their tresses and I wondered if I could make it work on this frizzy blonde mess that looked like a homeless resident of Sesame Street passed out face down in the street.

First step – find a suitable mounting station. I used a short lamp, on top of a book, on top of a shoe box, jammed between the counter and cabinet to hold it in place while I manhandled it into submission.  Look around your house and see what you can find.  The trick is to make the hair accessible while also being sturdily mounted in a way that allows you to push and pull on it without inadvertantly flinging it onto the floor.

Next, gather supplies – bobby pins, silver or sequined barrettes, a small yellow rubber band, scissors and a gallon of fabric softener.  I tried using both an American Girl brush and comb, but found using my fingers to be the best tool.

Pretend you are a hair stylist. Section the length into three parts and secure with chip clips.  Working one section at a time, drench hair with fabric softener – dip hair in a bowl, brush it on, pour it on – there is no such thing as too much.  Remember, what looks like hair is actually plastic and not particularly porous, so small amounts of liquid just slide off – I soaked that godforsaken crap until it had no choice but to submit to my will.  I then finger combed it over and over and over  – dumping handfuls of it into the trash can – until it actually started to resemble wet human hair.  If I found a particularly tough tangle at the ends, I just cut it off.


My, vaguely frightening, wig salon.

The best part is – no one is whining, “Stop! That hurts! You’re pulling my hair!” because no one is there… it is freakin’ awesome… you can do anything you want to a wig and no one screams that you’re scalping them.

Once you have done all three sections, just prior to braiding, look at the front and see if you want any of the longer hair to actually be part of the front comb-over. Pull it out from the back sections and clip it together in the front. Then take your three sections in the back and braid, twisting tightly to the side, using a hair barrette to secure it in back (the sparklier the better.)

Then trim and sweep over any longer sections you left in front, plus the bangs, and secure all with bobby pins. Cut a section or two if you like to leave unruly wispies tumbling over the forehead.


Fully saturated and hours of finger combing and it is beginning to look like wet human hair.

Helpful hints: I noticed that unholy amounts of fabric softener actually changed the color of the hair to a gray/white blond, which actually helped tone down the brassy yellow, Cinderella color, but I didn’t use it on the crown of the head and there was an obvious difference that I had to go back and try to correct.  So treat every inch of the wig, whether you need to tame it or not, to achieve color consistency.

Also, prolonged fabric softener exposure on bare hands – it took about two hours – causes a strange and entirely unpleasant skin reaction, so wear gloves.

Overall, I was very pleased with the results, but more importantly, Princess Elsa was happy and that is why I became a royal hair stylist in the first place.


From rat’s nest to awesome.

 And to answer your question, why yes, I do have this kind of time on my hands. Thank you for asking.

And remember, just let it go.


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About reneadijab

Renea Dijab

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3 Comments on “Two Hours and a Gallon of Downey Fabric Softener”

  1. heather Says:

    I’m not near that motivated, my kids would just have to suck it up… that being said, you did a really awesome job on that wig!


  2. haydendlinder Says:

    And now we know you LOVE your daughter.:)


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